A total solar eclipse is coming to Missouri and Illinois in 2024. It’s time to get ready
The opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse is rare. Even rarer is getting to experience two in one’s lifetime — in the same place.
On average, a total solar eclipse occurs once every 400 years in the same location on Earth. In 2017, the St. Louis region was within the path of totality for the first time since 1869. In April 2024, many people who live in eastern Missouri and southern Illinois will find themselves in that rare path of totality.
Author and umbraphile David Baron made plans to see his first total solar eclipse after interviewing the late astronomer and solar corona expert Jay Pasachoff while working as a science reporter in 1994. A type of partial eclipse called an annular solar eclipse brought Pasachoff to town, but it was his passionate description of experiencing totality that drew Baron to eclipse chasing.
“[Pasachoff] told me that as interesting as the partial eclipse was going to be, it was nothing compared with the true, inspiring beauty of a total solar eclipse,” Baron told St. Louis on the Air. “He said to me, ‘Before you die, you owe it to yourself to experience a total solar eclipse.’ And he said it with such sincerity and passion that I took him seriously.”
Four years later, Baron traveled to Aruba in the Caribbean Sea to witness his first total solar eclipse. Since then he has seen eight of them, including in Munich, Germany, in 1999; Queensland, Australia, in 2012 and St. Louis in 2017. Last month, Baron journeyed from his home in Boulder, Colorado, to 14 hours north of Peth, Australia — in what he described as “the middle of nowhere” — to witness 56 seconds of totality. Along with chasing total solar eclipses, Baron encourages others to see at least one eclipse in their lifetime.
“[Seeing total solar eclipses] made me feel like I understood how vast the universe is, and how tiny I am, which was both scary and really kind of reassuring,” he said. “Even though I am so tiny and meaningless in the scheme of things, I'm part of something so much larger than myself. And it was a wonderful feeling.”
For those interested in catching the 2024 total solar eclipse, Baron suggests planning for it as soon as possible. He said that hotels in cities in the path of April’s eclipse are already sold out, but that there are still options if you know where to look.
“Farmers will often open up their fields for people to pitch tents for a fee. You could get up in the middle of the night and drive in,” he said. “This total eclipse will occur in the early to mid afternoon, so if you're a few hours outside the path, that would be a reasonable thing to do [but] expect that there will be crazy, crazy traffic.”
After witnessing eight total solar eclipses in several different countries, Baron plans to continue chasing solar eclipses for as long as he is able.
“I've met so many people [that] go into it thinking, ‘What's the big deal?’ And they come out of it saying, ‘I'm going to start chasing these because they mean so much to me,’” he said. “Most people who see a total eclipse come out the other side and say, ‘Now I get it.’”
Correction: David Baron observed the 2017 total solar eclipse in Wyoming. A previous St. Louis Public Radio report stated he witnessed the eclipse in St. Louis.
For more on eclipse chasing, the reason why some eclipses last longer than others, and where David Baron plans to be for the 2024 American total solar eclipse listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast or Stitcher, or click the play button below.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.